There was something reassuring, in these down times, about PaceWildenstein Gallery holding an opening Thursday night in its gorgeous West 22nd Street space, with the likes of Richard Tuttle, Terence Koh, Anne Temkin and Chuck Close paying tribute to featured artist Robert Irwin. Unfortunately, the flip side of Pace, the widely held impression that established artists often go soft, lose their edge, under Pace’s tutelage, is revived in Irwin’s new show. a real clunker.
New Yorkers may remember the beautiful layers of screens Irwin installed at Pace’s Greene Street space in 1992 or the elaborate maze of red and white curtains with which Irwin filled the Dia Foundation on Easter Sunday 1998. The current Pace show, however, resembles the work of the 22nd Street space’s previous tenant, the Arnolf Rainier Museum, a permanent installation of Rainier’s execrable, no-talent crucifixion paintings.
All the tried and true virtues of Robert Irwin are absent here: multiple transparencies, shifting ambiguities of light, colors that dapple, then disappear. Instead Irwin has cobbled together various tropes and gestures from other artists to stunningly dingy effect. He adorns an ugly gray wall with Jasper Johns crosshatches constructed from mini-Dan Flavin white fluorescent tubes. Looking at this garish polluted lighting is like staring into God’s asshole. A twin wall behind it, in garish red, recalls a seedy bordello on some Far Eastern shore.
Syncopating these walls of death are metal wall monoliths painted black, disconcertingly mimicking lucite. The whole program is a sort of minimalist version of purgatory, with the shades of Flavin, Judd and Newman writhing in agony.
Irwin, in his familiar baseball cap, didn’t seem particularly depressed at the opening, as Pace minions acted like they had a winner on their hands. No such luck, as more doom and gloom, badly conceived and realized, is hardly the esthetic recipe for Obamatime.
"Robert Irwin: Red Drawing White Drawing Black Painting," Jan. 23-Feb. 28, 2009, at PaceWildenstein, 545 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).